This past Sunday I had the privilege of speaking at Solid Rock Church, the Sovereign Grace church in Riverdale, Maryland, not far from where I live. I spoke on Ephesians 5:15-21
and called the message, “Spirit-filled Singing.” I shared six characteristics of singing that are a result of being filled with the Spirit.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the
best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be
foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk
with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing
one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody
to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God
the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another
out of reverence for Christ. (ESV)
My first point was “Spirit-filled singing is to each other,” and based on Ephesians 5:19 where Paul says we’re “addressing one another.” You’d think in a passage about singing praise to God that Paul would begin with God. He doesn’t. The first focus of our singing Paul mentions is not God, but one another. Colossians 3:16 fills this idea out and says that we’re “teaching and admonishing one another.” This shows us that one of the primary aims of corporate worship is meant to be building each other up, not simply having our own personal encounter with God.
Ways We Can Address One Another When We Sing
How do we “address one another” when we sing? I can think of a number of ways. As we all sing at the same time, we’re hearing those around us proclaim biblical truth and our response to it. We’re being taught and admonished by our brothers and sisters to trust the God of Scripture and the only Savior.
Songs like “You Are Holy” have the men alternating lines with the women. Other songs are in a call and response format, where the leader sings a line and the congregation responds.
Listening to a soloist is another way we can address one another as we sing. Solos don’t have to be “performances.” When the vocalist’s motives and gestures are Christ-exalting and natural, our hearts can be inspired and instructed as we listen to some else’s Spirit-filled singing.
Practices that Hinder Horizontal Awareness in Worship
Over the years, most of us have developed a few practices that can hinder any benefit we might receive from addressing one another as we sing.
1. Singing songs that lack biblical substance or doctrinal depth. If the songs we’re singing are primarily subjective, and focused on how we feel, what we’re doing, or some other subjective element, we’re not going to have much to say to each other.
2. Thinking that “worship” means closing my eyes, raising my hands, and blocking out everyone else around me. I’ve had many profound moments like that, as I’ve focused in an undistracted way on the words I’m singing and the Savior I’m singing to. But being Spirit-filled should actually make us more aware of others, not less. Many of the songs we sing aren’t even directed towards God. "Crown Him with Many Crowns", "Before the Throne of God Above", and "Amazing Grace" are a few that come to mind. So when I lead I probably have my eyes open more than half the time. I’m looking around, addressing others, celebrating the fact that we can glory in Jesus Christ together. I do that even when I’m not leading, sometimes turning to someone beside me to rejoice in God’s grace. I want to benefit from the fact that I’m with the people of God.
3. Singing alone. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with praising God on my own. But in the age of iPods, earphones, and Internet downloads, it’s easy to lose our appreciation for singing with the church. The Spirit intends us to join our hearts to each other as well as to Christ when we sing.
After I preached the message this past Sunday, I wanted to apply the message in a memorable way. So I had everyone stand up and told them we were going to sing "Amazing Grace" a cappella. Only I didn’t want anyone closing their eyes. I wanted people to look around the room as they sang, rejoicing at God’s mercy in each other’s lives. It was a little awkward at first, but eventually we were singing with all our hearts, unashamedly “addressing one another” in song, reminding ourselves of how amazing God’s grace truly is, to save wretches like us.
So next time you lead or worship God with your church, don’t stop at asking the Lord to “open the eyes of your heart.” Ask him to open your eyes in your head, too.
Worship Pastor/ Director, Covenant Life Church , Gaithersburg , MD
I must admit: I work hard at achieving #2 in that list of hindrances to "horizontal awareness." Pursuing tunnel vision on God keeps me focused on Him and not others. Maybe it's because of all the judging and assuming I do when I look around at other people. (Kind of like Joy was talking about in the blog that started all this posting!)
So---it's not about me, huh? You mean, when I worship with others, I have to really see them, hear them, be vulnerable with them?
So here I go, exploring another long-held assumption which God is shifting closer to His truth. . .